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Patience is a virtue

With the IronHorse Races this week, local horse owner/trainer Monte Gibson knows what it takes to turn horses into winners

by: COURTESY OF REED PALMER PHOTOGRAPHY - Natraski, right, jockeyed by Jaime Martinez, is one of four horses that trainer Monte Gibson will see to this week at the 2006 IronHorse Races at Crook County Fairgrounds. Above, Natraski, owned at the time by Jack Rhoden, took first place at Portland Meadows on February 26, 2005. Natraski clocked a 1:15.2 in the six-furlong race.

Local horse owner and trainer Monte Gibson believes that between him and his late father, Babe, the two have amassed anywhere between 300 and 400 trips to the winner's circle with top race horses.
   And it appears, sometime in the near future, he'll be making his way back to the winner's circle.
   "I've got a three-year-old filly that belongs to myself and Mark Flemming," the horse owner said about Autumn Again at his barbershop on Main Street from where he has worked for the past 22 years. "The way she looks right now, the way she's training, I think she's the best horse I've ever trained. She looks like a race horse and she does everything."
   That's quite a buildup for a horse. But as Gibson enters four horses in this week's 2006 IronHorse Races at the Crook County Fairgrounds starting on Wednesday night (post time at 7:15), not one of them will be Autumn Again, the horse that Gibson talks about with such high acclaim.
   The reason? Gibson values training the horse the right way; No matter how special it could be, the horse won't get to that point if it isn't brought up right.
   Gibson said he learned everything he knows on training horses from Babe, who passed away in 1995. Babe trained horses in the 1930s, while his older brother raised horses, and Gibson's older brother was a jockey. As Gibson said, "it was kind of a family affair."
   "There was one thing he pounded in my head," Gibson said about his father, "`If you don't wait on a horse, they'll make you wait.'"
   As Gibson would explain, you don't want to force a horse to run. "It's like fighting a guy for 12 rounds, when he's only ready to go six," he said.
   For Gibson, picking out a horse is where it starts. Like how a movie camera pans up the screen when showing an attractive woman, Gibson starts at the feet of a horse and goes up from there. He talks about the horse's confirmation, or as he describes, the horse's build, body, and legs.
   "You don't want a horse that has a real long cannon bone," said Gibson, talking about the bone between the ankle and the knee. "The longer it is, the more pressure on the leg."
   Although that's what Gibson looks for, it doesn't always mean it's right. Gibson's winningest horse was Sign of Flight, a horse he purchased in the 1970s for $50 and two old saddles. Along with the help of his father, the two took Sign of Flight, who Gibson described as poor and skinny, and trained him and fed him until he was ready.
   Sign of Flight, who didn't have good confirmation Gibson said, went on to win 12 races.
   As for training, Gibson believes in time, observation, and feed. Every horse is different, and thus, every horse needs to be watched carefully. As he says, "Every horse will teach you something if you have your eyes open."
   Gibson says for a horse that's never raced before, it takes about 100-120 days to train him; and for a seasoned horse, about 90 days. He also prefers his horses to run slow at greater distances than short, quick runs to see how a horse will compare to the track.
   "Feed is one of the most important things to a race horse, which most people don't realize," he said. "The old saying my Dad always had was, `If you short a horse at a feed tub, you'll short a horse at the stretch.'"
   When the horse is finally ready, Gibson says he puts the horse in the appropriate race, not to be swayed by large purses or big payouts. New horses are put in races against other horses that have never raced, and he moves up from there.
   "I'll say one thing about the olden times, they didn't run their horses in races that they didn't belong," Gibson said. "When you run him in his conditions, the chances for him winning are better. The negative is that you'll get beat and you're not doing your horse justice."
   Gibson, who trains his horses in the morning, at night, after work at the barbershop, and on the weekends, will have four horses entered this week, including Ochoco Rose, Needs To Be Tops, Natraski, and Andy Can Run. As for Autumn Again, she'll run in the future when she's ready, and when Gibson feels that she's ready.
   "I haven't got her ready," Gibson said. "A lot of people just do it to watch them run and are not thinking about the consequences of the horse. I didn't get her the way I wanted her to be and I definitely believe she's worth waiting on."